A Deep Dive Into Irish Whiskey

This was Ireland's worst winter in a quarter century. The weather sent my wife and me to seek shelter in our locals which include such cozy havens as O'Loclainn's Whiskey Bar in Ballyvaughan and Daly’s Pub in Bellharbour. While the snow, hail and sleet pelted the windows, we made a deep dive into Irish whiskey.

In the States, ordering an Irish whiskey has long meant choosing between Jameson and Bushmill’s, but over here we found some spectacular brands of Irish that we had never heard of before—and sampling the lot kept us busy in on those dark, cold nights.

We are not alone in our new spiritual fascination. Scotch and Bourbon have hit a plateau lately. But Irish whiskey sales are up 131% in the last decade, according to the Wall Street Journal, making it the fastest growing spirit in the world.

New distilleries are popping up all over the island. We are reminded of the small artisan whiskey makers in the U.S. who capitalized on the boom in bourbon. Like them, young Irish distillers are reviving traditional methods to make premium whiskeys. Sadly, it will be years until some of the new spirits have aged enough to release.

Whiskey Tourism:

If you love whiskey and you are visiting Ireland, you'll find lots of fabulous pubs to drink it in. But if you really love whisky, you might consider visiting some distilleries. The Irish Whiskey Trail website offers a downloadable map of distilleries you can visit around the country. I am looking forward to visiting Walsh Distilleries, makers of Writer's Tears Whiskey. How can you go wrong with a name like that?

In Dublin, be sure and visit the Jameson Distillery, Bow Street. The whiskey is no longer made in Dublin, but the original distillery has been transformed into an excellent Irish whiskey museum. The process of whiskey-making is explained in great detail.

Also in Dublin, you'll find Teeling Distillery, home of the progressive new brand that's upsetting the apple cart with a new approach to Irish whiskeys. Teeling Small Batch is a blend of whiskey from several casks that is then finished in rum barrels. It is extremely smooth with a touch of sweetness.

The fruity aroma of Teeling Single Grain whiskey comes from the California red wine barrels it is aged in. Teeling Single Malt is made from 100% malted barley, rather than the blend of malted and unmalted usually found in Irish whiskey. All three are stellar--each with its own appeal.

The Brabazon Bottling Series; a highly allocated collection of unique Irish Single Malts matured in sherry barrels, is the top of the Teeling line and very difficult to find.

Tours of the Teeling whiskey warehouse are available, but its best to make a reservation:


What to Order at the Pub:

Along with new premium brands like Teeling and Walsh's, you'll also find some Irish brands of yesteryear, like Redbreast, Green Spot and Yellow Spot at the pub.

The traffic light trio: Redbreast, Green Spot and Yellow Spot are brands that were created in the early 1900s when well-established Dublin wine merchants came up with the idea of filling their emptied wine barrels with hundreds of thousands of gallons of Irish whiskey and aging it in their warehouses. The old premium brands marketed by the Dublin wine merchants are back in vogue.

All of these single pot still Irish whiskeys have something in common—they are amazingly smooth. From the first sip, you can’t help but notice the creamy mouthfeel and complex flavors. Redbreast 12 Year Old is light on the palate with a spicy aftertaste--it is the largest-selling single pot still Irish whiskey in the world. Redbreast 15 offers an even mellower taste.

Green Spot is a reasonably priced single pot still whiskey with no age statement, its flavor is light and butterscotchy—reminiscent of a Speyside single malt Scotch. Its big sister, Yellow Spot is 12 years old with a concentrated aroma and complex fruitiness derived from the combination of the bourbon, sherry, and Malaga barrels it’s aged in—sort of an after-dinner sipping whiskey—the priciest of the lot at around $90 a bottle.

Green Spot and Yellow Spot are still marketed by the Mitchell family wine merchants—the names come from the spot of green or yellow paint daubed on the barrel to indicate the whiskey’s age. Redbreast was originally aged in sherry barrels by W & A Gilbey (famous for gin).

All three brands are now owned by Irish Distillers along with Jameson, Bushmill’s, Powers, and most other Irish whiskeys. Irish Distillers is a subsidiary of the French conglomerate Pernod-Ricard S.A.

Be on the lookout for new small artisan distillers which will be introducing single malt and single pot still Irish whiskeys as soon as they are aged enough.